Though we’re far from world peace, the equality and diversity gaps (in our society at least) are ever closing. But is the media one step behind these improving societal shifts? Are we, as marketers, advertisers and creatives, truly mirroring our diverse society?

Historically, advertising has objectified, even insulted and degraded women. From the c.1880 advert for the Conqueror Clothes Wringer (it’s main selling point, of course is not that it aids with drying clothes, but that the husband need no longer wait for his dinner on laundry day), to this c.1950 advert selling bottle tops that only require a ‘dainty grasp’ - adverts like these have contributed to female gender stereotypes throughout the past few centuries.

Thankfully, while gender equality continues to improve in society, so has the depiction of women in the media, and we now see adverts that squash the gender roles of the past. Campaigns such as Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’, Microsoft’s ‘Make What’s Next’ or Stabilo’s ‘Highlight the remarkable’ show women as strong, intelligent and capable.

But we’re not there yet..

Better representation of women in creative has been an ongoing topic of discussion in the advertising industry for years, but unfortunately we still have a long way to go before we achieve truly accurate and positive portrayals of women.

Recent studies have found:

  • Women and girls were negatively depicted in 29% of ads and media programs (P&G, 2017)
  • 60% of people don’t see their community of friends, family and acquaintances represented accurately in most advertising (The Female Quotient and Ipsos, 2018)
  • There are twice as many male characters in adverts than female characters and that when women do appear, they are most likely to be younger (in their 20s, compared to men who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s). (Channel 4, 2018)
  • 75% of women felt ads in London were not relevant to them, and only 22% felt ads in the capital reflect the cultural diversity of the city’s population (City & Guilds and University College London, 2018)

At the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, Kim Getty (president of ad agency Deutsch) said advertisers need to be asking themselves: ‘does this capture the world as it is today, or are you using dated references?’. But, it’s two years on and still many of the women we see in advertising are not representative of the diversity we see around us.

That’s why The Mayor of London and Transport for London are launching ‘The Women We See’ competition, inviting brands to pitch creative concepts to celebrate and reflect the city’s diversity for the chance to win £50,000 of digital and out-of-home (OOH) ad space across London’s transport network.

A hot topic for education marketers

Obviously, portraying real-world diversity should be a priority for any brand in any sector, but it’s a particularly hot topic for HE marketers.

Universities are marketing to one of the most diversity-savvy audiences. Generation Z are driven by different values than the ‘self-centric’ millennials - they believe that equality is non-negotiable, according to a study Getting to Know Gen Z: How the Pivotal Generation is Different from Millennials. The study found that racial, gender and sexual orientation equality are seen as the most important issues today by Gen Z, and 60% of those surveyed will support brands that take a stand on issues they believe in regarding human rights, race and sexual orientation. They survey also found that 77% of Gen Z prefer ads that show real people in real situations.

What’s more, with growing pressure from the government to increase diversity levels in higher education, institutions must carefully consider the people featured in their marketing campaigns. We want to encourage everybody to grasp their right to education - does your creative represent people of different backgrounds, levels of affluence, races and abilities?

Our Creative Strategist, Lindsay, explains Natives’ approach to producing campaign creative:

“Whenever we are producing a photoshoot or a video, we want to showcase a variety of interesting stories.  Considering universities are hubs of lots of different specialities we’re always really lucky to have such a diverse offering to choose from. With this in mind, when selecting our final contributors, we’re always pleased to show off the full diversity of the course, university etc. And where possible we always like to bust a stereotype, I love to shoot strong women bossing expertise that are typically male, and vice-versa. It always makes for a much more interesting picture, and ensures that everyone feels that same path is accessible to them too.”

- Lindsay Toone, Creative Strategist, Net Natives

Some of our recent projects are great examples of our pre-existing commitment to accurate, true to life portrayals in our creative work. This health shoot for University of Hull featured BAME women making aspirational career choices.

And our project with Plumpton College used creative to tackle stereotypes and increase appeal of niche courses to a diverse audience. Check out the case study to find out more.

The TfL ‘Women We See’ initiative aims to rid London’s advertising of outdated gender stereotypes and instead show a true reflection of the real women that live, work and study in the capital; BAME women, those with disabilities, members of the LGBT community and those from diverse socioeconomic background. The types of women that universities want to recruit to close the diversity gap in higher education.

Needless to say, this has got us pretty excited here at Natives HQ, and we think an HE campaign would make an ideal winner. We might just be working on a concept to pitch for one of our clients… watch this space.

Article by


Rosie Crompton

Events and Marketing Executive